As Yardbirds regroup, their legend holds: ‘It’s very gratifying’

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News that the current incarnation is splitting led to worry that the Yardbirds are finished. While that’s not true — drummer Jim McCarty confirms he will return in 2015 with other Yardbirds-related projects — a sense of gratitude for decades of great memories still surrounded the announcement.

Through various incarnations, and past lengthy absences, the Yardbirds’ importance in rock, and in popularizing blues forms, remains unchallenged. “It’s very gratifying,” McCarty admits in a newly posted talk, chuckling. “I would never have believed it years ago that we would have been such an influence.”

Formed just over five decades ago around a core group of Chris Dreja, McCarty and Keith Relf, the Yardbirds rose to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame status behind a series of well-regarded guitarists, including Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.

The group’s most recent lineup also featured original member Top Topham, with whom McCarty began working again in the late 1980s, as well as newer additions in Ben King and David Smale.

Looking back, McCarty credits another group of future rock stars — rather than resurgent legacy figures like Sonny Boy Williamson II, with whom the Yardbirds later toured — for sparking the Yardbirds’ original interest in American roots music.

“In the early ’60s, there was suddenly a big blues boom,” McCarty says. “Suddenly, everyone was really interested in black American blues. It was people like the Rolling Stones that sort of got it started. We used to go and see the Stones, as well. That’s how we got into it. There was big buzz around about Chicago blues.”

The Yardbirds — right up through the latest version fronted by Andy Mitchell, who play their last date on January 20, 2015 — most certainly kept that buzz going.

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